The North Carolina state director for the Donald Trump campaign talks about why he supports his boss’ immigration policy, but saves “the meat — no potatoes, all meat” for after a reporter has been ejected from the room.
Earl L. Phillip, the North Carolina state director for the Donald Trump campaign found a receptive audience during his appearance on Monday before a group of conservative voters, who regularly meet at the Golden Corral at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem.
“You know, what’s sad is our government is giving refugees more benefits than our veterans,” remarked Beverly Lung, a conservative activist who had registered voters at the candidate’s appearance in Greensboro a couple weeks earlier.
Phillip cited a related issue as the primary aspect of Trump’s appeal to him. A political consultant in Charlotte, Phillip has worked closely with the Republican Party, including previous roles as North Carolina African American State Director for the Republican National Committee and chairman of the National Veterans for Republicans Association, along with consulting with the state GOP on minority engagement.
“What I love most about Mr. Trump is his stance on what he wants to do for immigration,” said Phillip, who was born in the US Virgin Islands to parents of Trinidadian heritage. “I am not a fan of illegal immigration. I am a huge fan of immigration.”
Trump has made immigration a cornerstone of his campaign, with pledges to build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants from crossing the US border with Mexico and to temporarily prevent Muslims from coming into the United States, while assailing his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for her plan to ramp up refugee resettlement from Syria.
“We’re immigrants,” Phillip said. “We are. My family has no problem with immigration. We have the problem with illegal immigration because we believe — my family and I, we talk about this all the time — that if this country could fix illegal immigration, most of our problems will start to decrease, if not go away. We’ve felt like this since the ’80s. Illegal immigration, it’s not just a problem today; it’s been a problem for many years.”
During his speech to the conservative group at the Golden Corral on Monday Phillip described an upbringing in which his father moved to a one-bedroom apartment on the west side of Baltimore in advance of the rest of the family and worked two manual-labor jobs to save money. When the family joined his father in Baltimore, Phillip said they slept on the floor, but eventually moved to the more affluent northeast side of the city and the children attended parochial schools.
Phillip explained his opposition to people coming into the United States without proper documentation or overstaying their visas as a matter of believing that people shouldn’t jump in line and should abide by the rules.
“My parents took more than five years to become naturalized citizens, so imagine yourself waiting in line to listen to Earl’s speech when it’s a mile long out there — I’m giving myself a little bit of props — it’s a long line and you’ve been waiting in line for hours and then the doors open up and you’re slowly but surely coming up to the front, and somebody just says, ‘I’m gonna walk in the front and go in while you’ve been waiting in line for all this time,’” he said. “One, it’s not fair. Two, it’s not right. And three, there’s a big old sign that say, ‘The line starts back there.’ And if you walk up there you’re breaking the rules. We are a country of rules, right?”
Phillip said that while his father emphasized hard work and discipline, his parents were registered Democrats. His older brother changed his registration to Republican after then Vice President George HW Bush intervened to ensure that he got appointed to the US Naval Academy.
“America is great, and we will always be great; we’ve just got some tweaking to do,” Phillip said. “And that’s why I support Donald Trump from way back in the day. I said, ‘You know what, if he runs for president he’s gonna win because I don’t see him to be a politician. I see him to be a man of getting things accomplished.”
The Trump state campaign director threw this reporter out of the meeting. His remarks about his family history and why Trump’s position on immigration appeals to him were part of a sanitized prologue, and he made it clear that he would not speak candidly with a reporter in the room.
“I can really do some talking, but I can’t because we have a member of the press here,” Phillip said. “I will leave it up to you: If you want to know the real deal, he’s gonna have to leave. If you want me to speak PC he can stay.”
“You don’t understand,” Phillip continued. “I work for a presidential campaign. I do not speak to the press unless the campaign authorizes me to.”
Phillip said he would speak in the presence of a reporter while he talked about his family background and why he supports Trump, adding, “When we get into the meat — no potatoes, all meat — then we can decide what you guys want to do.”
“I say the press goes,” one person attending the meeting said, prompting murmurs of agreement.
One person seemed to argue for transparency, saying, “First Amendment,” but the sentiment elicited no support from anyone else.
Phillip also protested when this reporter started to take a photograph of him.
“No pictures, please,” he said. “I did not give you permission to take my picture. I play it very safe — very, very safe — and I hope you understand.”
Before ejecting this reporter from the meeting, Phillip expressed willingness to answer questions if he receives permission from the campaign.
“If they say, ‘Sure, he’s good…’ — because they’re gonna vet you, obviously, see what you wrote before and things like that, and then they’ll probably want a couple subjects, and then they say, ‘Okay,’ I’ll be more than happy to talk on the phone or come down and meet with you,” he said.
Ashley Mocarski, communications coordinator for the Trump campaign, said in an email on Tuesday that Phillip would not be available for comment.
Pam Lofland, who organizes the weekly luncheons, said she hadn’t realized prior to the meeting that Phillip would only speak on condition that the press was not present.
Lofland has hosted the luncheons for two years, and they have acquired a reputation as a forum where conservative voters ask pointed questions, and Republican candidates and other guests typically provide candid responses. On at least a handful of occasions in the past that this reporter has attended the luncheons, no speaker has ever asked him to leave. That includes Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, who spoke in 2012 about her organization’s strategy to win a referendum to amend the state constitution to define marriage solely as a union between one man and one woman.